Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: PLY Magazine Winter 2013 Issue, Part 2

As promised, here is my personal journey in making woolen yarn, I was inspired to keep trying after reading the Winter 2013 PLY Magazine issue. I've mentioned several times that I'm just not very good at spinning woolen yarns, and I think many people fall into my boat. I learned how to spin worsted first, and kept using that method before I even knew that woolen spinning existed. And when I did learn about woolen spinning, I was too interested in leveling up my worsted spinning so I could make usable yarn. Now that I think I'm pretty good spinner, I'm interested in developing and leveling up my woolen spinning skills. Since I've already gotten a handle on worsted spinning, I get a +5 bonus to Dex. :)

For those of you who are still getting into spinning, don't fret. There's no right way to learn how to spin, or do things in an established order. The mere fact that fiber needs to be twisted just enough to make yarn will help correct any issues you have in making yarn, so let loose and make yarn! There are plenty of people out there who have learned various methods simultaneously, and if you're this kind of person, hopefully someone will post some extra tips in the comments below. *HInt*

I've attempted to make woolen yarn over the years, but something would go wrong, I wouldn't know how to fix it, then I got frustrated and left it alone for a while. I keep coming back to the woolen method because I don't want to be defeated by something, which for many, is so easy. So, while I was reading this issue of PLY I was reading it with the goal of learning, rather than just weighing its content for my audience. Before spinning woolen, I needed to prepare my fiber. I grabbed my blending board, which I've been using more and more lately, and made about 100g of rolags. The way you build up fiber on a blending board is an art, so I will delve more into the details for that in a later post.

I used my super soft Orry merino fiber (from MMFWOOL), super soft dark brown huacaya alpaca (from Santa Claus Alpacas), and cashmere (Mongolian) to make the rolags. Mr. IT Guy complained of having cold ears during the winter, so this fiber combo would erect a barrier to the wind. I layered the fibers down so that the cashmere was sandwiched between the merino and alpaca. Cashmere usually has a staple length of less than 2 inches, so it is important to blend them together like this so the spinning is smoother. I can't remember how many rolags I had in the end, but it was probably around 25, about 4g each.

I set up my wheel with the larger whorl, and I also made sure that the uptake was a little greater than I would want it to be for spinning a worsted yarn. These two things help keep the yarn from becoming overtwisted. The larger whorl gives you a little more time to adjust the diameter of the yarn as twist enters the partially drafted fiber, and the faster uptake also gives you something to pull against as you draft away from the wheel. I didn't use just one article from the PLY issue to help me spin my woolen yarn, since there are so many useful hints throughout the whole issue. I kept it closeby as I spun so I could troubleshoot quickly. Perhaps they should offer a special spiral binding for those who want to lay the magazine open next to their wheel!

Generally, I was holding the fresh yarn with my left hand towards the wheel, pinching the twist, and pulling away from the wheel with my fiber (right) hand. It was tough going at first, but I managed to spin the whole skein this way. With my 4g rolags, I was able to get 4ish draws per rolag before I needed to add in a new rolag. I learned that you don't want to try to spin too much fiber at once since your arms are shorter than you think. :) The two difficulties I faced most frequently were muscle cramps in my pinching hand, and keeping the diameter from varying too much. These issues will resolve when I get better at woolen spinning, and the hand cramps will go away when I stop using two hands to spin woolen--most people only need one hand.

The results of my best attempt are:

The yarn turned out better than I hoped, and would only get better. After skeining it up, I washed it vigorously in hot soapy water, then rinsed it in hot water. I didn't want to shock the yarn too much, but I did want the fibers to hold onto each other a little more. I smacked it in the tub a few times, then gave it a few snaps by pulling the skein taught between my hands. I let it dry without any weight, and the yarn was very well balanced--a contrast to my earlier purple yarn that I posted about. In all, I made a worsted weight woolen single with about 178 yards.

Then came the project! I picked out a masculine cable hat pattern from ravelry, and made a custom fit for Mr. IT Guy. Once it was done, I wanted to felt it just slightly so it would prevent all wind from penetrating the fibers and making his ears cold. I didn't record the total amount of shrinkage, but I would guess that it shrunk about 5% from its original size. I had some extra yarn leftover, so I made a giant pompom for the hat. That was a brilliant idea, since now Mr. IT Guy looks so gosh darn adorable when he wears the hat. And the best part of this project is: Mr. IT Guy's ears are safe and sound in their little warm hat.

(I'll post pictures of the hat when the sun isn't shining so brightly through our windows!)

Woolen yarns have their place among the spinning world. Their helical structure traps heat beautifully and makes the warmest mittens, hats, and scarves. Whether you have a drop spindle or spinning wheel, this issue of PLY should be on your reference shelf.